World Council of Churches (WCC)


From the 2013 Report of the department:

World Council of Churches: Anne Glynn Mackoul

The World Council of Churches (WCC), founded in 1948, arose out of initiatives for inter-Christian contact and cooperation that began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including an influential 1920 encyclical of the Ecumenical Patriarchate that first called publically on all "churches of Christ" to form a fellowship. The WCC continues to be a point of reference for Orthodox theologians, leaders and representatives of the various patriarchates of the Orthodox Church to engage with one another and with representatives of the 350 member Christian churches from around the globe. Since the WCC's Eighth Assembly (Harare, December 1998), the presence of the Orthodox Churches within the WCC has remained constant. Representatives of the Patriarchate of Antioch take leading roles on the staff, governing bodies, commissions and conferences of the WCC.

Commitment on the part of the Church of Antioch to the World Council of Churches was quite strong during the primacy of our late patriarch, His Beatitude Ignatius IV of thrice-blessed memory, who had been engaged in ecumenical work throughout his ministry and who also served as a president of the WCC for a term. The Enthronement Speech and First Encyclical of His Beatitude John X indicate that His Beatitude John X plans to continue strong ecumenical engagement and leadership in ecumenical and inter-religious affairs. The delegation of the Church of Antioch to the planned Tenth Assembly in Busan (November 2013) numbers twelve persons, will be headed by His Eminence Metropolitan Damaskinos of São Paolo and will include bishops, priests and lay persons from Syria, Lebanon and Europe, as well as two from the North American archdiocese: NAC Teen SOYO President Ms. Laney Wagoner and Mrs. Anne Glynn Mackoul.

The current General Secretary of the WCC, the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, a Norwegian Lutheran theologian, was elected in August 2009, following the Rev. Samuel Kobia, Methodist from Kenya, who had served one term. The Rev. Dr. Tveit has demonstrated great respect for the Orthodox churches, including in his handling of many sensitive issues. He also has a deep understanding and appreciation for the Christians in the Middle East, having served as a moderator of the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum.

Christian Presence and Witness in the Middle East

Of particular concern to the Church of Antioch—and by extension its North American archdiocese—is the Christian presence and witness in the Middle East. Most parishes in the archdiocese include families with roots in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine. The continuing illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories and illegal Israeli settlements outside of its 1967 borders, the war in Iraq, and the current turmoil in Syria all have resulted in recent extreme stresses on the Christians in the region. The World Council of Churches, working with the churches in the region, including the Patriarchate of Antioch, has been responsive to the calls from Christians and Christian church leaders for support and solidarity.

The Palestine-Israel Ecumenical Forum (PIEF) initiative launched in Amman, Jordan in June 2007 continues to be a priority of the Council. This programme, which has attracted wide interest and support from member churches including in North America, facilitates networking to produce measurable increased profile and effectiveness among those churches, church-related institutions, NGOs and Israeli peace groups engaged in efforts for peace and justice in the Holy Land. Among the important results of PIEF networking was the Kairos-Palestine initiative, drafted and agreed to by all of the churches in the Holy Land, calling for specific actions and solidarity in prayer and advocacy. http://www.oikoumene.org/...

An additional long-running program of the WCC is its Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), which program places volunteers from WCC member churches in various locations throughout the West Bank. The program offers an unparalleled opportunity to witness first-hand the impact of Israeli policies on the Palestinian people and to engage in meaningful solidarity with Christian Palestinians. www.eappi.org

In May 2013 the WCC and the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) co-hosted in Lebanon a gathering of 150 church leaders and representatives of almost all of the churches in the Middle East and from thirty-four countries. The conference participants met "in order to be the witnesses of our common Christian faith. We believe that the Gospel calls us always to love God and love our neighbours and all people, as did Jesus Christ, the revelation of divine love. In Him, the whole of humanity is reconciled and united in the bond of God's plan of salvation." The statement that resulted from the meeting elaborated twelve agreed-upon principles, called for specific actions of solidarity and advocacy, and offered guidance for ecumenical actions in support of the local Middle East churches over the next years. http://www.oikoumene.org/...

The Permanent Committee on Consensus and Collaboration /Orthodox Relations

The WCC has a broad array of programs and initiatives in addition to the programs related to the Middle East. Following the 2006 Porto Alegre Assembly, the WCC established the Permanent Committee on Consensus and Collaboration to continue the "authority, mandate, concerns and dynamic of the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC," and give "advice and [make] recommendations to governing bodies of the WCC during and between assemblies in order to contribute to the formation of consensus on matters proposed for the agenda of the WCC." Additionally, the Permanent Committee is charged with facilitating improved participation of the Orthodox in the entire life and work of the Council, offering counsel and providing opportunity for action on matters of common interest, and giving attention to matters of ecclesiology." By addressing in a small, dedicated group issues that might prove, or have proven, neuralgic in the larger governing bodies, approaches have been found to frame the issues and programs in ways that enhance the possibilities for meaningful participation.

Governance

The 2009 Central Committee initiated extensive review of the governance structure of the WCC including study of all aspects of WCC organization and government. It was found necessary to clarify the roles, responsibilities and authority at the various levels of leadership, to better articulate the distinction between management (staff) and governance (elected representatives of churches), and to consider adjustments that might address the new financial realities felt by all churches and ecumenical institutions, particularly in the aftermath of the global economic crisis, increasing transparency and accountability. While the Central Committee approved the proposed changes during its final meeting before the Busan Assembly last August and September, the Assembly in Busan must confirm some details of the revision.

Public Statements

At each meeting of a governing body, the public issues committee offers for consideration public statements on a number of issues as well as minutes to the churches recommending action or study. Disparate political positions from the Middle East, particularly Syria, were accommodated in the very careful drafting of a WCC statement issued from the August/September 2012 meeting of the central committee, involving thoughtful consultations among experts from within the WCC staff, church representatives and resource persons. Following this same deliberate, thoughtful drafting process, many statements and minutes have been issued by the WCC over the last two years. www.oikoumene.org.

Conclusion

Delegates from North American churches encounter a different ecumenical milieu at the WCC level than exists in North America, especially in the United States. Few Orthodox from North America are delegates to the WCC. No North American Antiochians participate in the National Council of Churches of Christ USA. When the WCC convenes regional meetings, it is never clear whether it would be better for a North American representing the Church of Antioch to attend the North American meeting or the Middle East meeting, although the opportunity to serve as a bridge of understanding exists in both contexts.

These disparate levels of ecumenical engagement and identity co-exist with some dissonance. Some Protestant churches in North America evince great interest in the churches of the Middle East and invite as speakers representatives from the Church of Antioch from Syria and Lebanon, while other communities here in the US betray little awareness of the east or the indigenous Christians living there. No doubt many reasons exists for misunderstanding exacerbated by great distance, however, the presence of so many faithful Orthodox Christians within the North American archdiocese provides an opportunity to build additional bridges of understanding and cooperation between east and west, emphasizing the best of both worlds and overcoming the worst.

Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement means different things to different churches, but for the Church of Antioch, the WCC often has provided a forum for our serving the Church as model of dialogue and engagement with "other," as bridge between cultures, communities and peoples. This is a primary purpose, as the WCC member churches work towards "visible unity." In addition, ancillary opportunities are found for the Orthodox engaged in the ecumenical movement, such as the useful back channel provided by ecumenical encounters among its representatives from the various Orthodox churches.